For those of you new to these 2018 Men’s Nations League previews, this will give you a better idea of the teams that you’re unfamiliar with and will allow you to follow the tournament more easily. The format consists of 5 weekends of round-robin play starting tomorrow taking place in different locations around the world followed by a final round in Lille, France on July 4-8th.
I’ll be doing the previews in reverse order of my own personal, unofficial power rankings. Feel free to let me know why your team is too low.
Another dominant volleyball country that took a bit of a break during last year’s World League. They still made the final round with mostly young, untested players but lost to Canada and were not able to medal. It doesn’t seem like Russia wants to repeat that result this year. Familiar faces from the teams that won in 2012 and came in 4th in 2016 will be returning to bolster the Russian side.
One the biggest additions, both literally and figuratively, for Russia is Dmitry Muserskiy. The 7’2” middle has been a notable absence from the national team for the last few years, but will be making his heralded return this summer for the nations league and world championships. He is a huge presence in neutralizing opposing middles, and can easily finish over top of blocks resulting in top-notch efficiency. He will be joined in the middle by a by the youngster Ilia Vlasov, a 7-footer with a condor’s wingspan, and team Russia veteran and Zenit Kazan starter Artem Volvich.
Russia has some strong youth players that will get some opportunities to prove themselves during the nations league. If you haven’t seen 22-year-old opposite Victor Polotaev play, go to YouTube right now and watch some of his highlights. The court is his personal trampoline and he hits like he is trying to pop as many volleyballs as possible. We saw some of 6’10” outside Egor Kliuka at last year’s world league, and it will be interesting to see how he plays when he isn’t carrying the offensive load for the team. The most exciting among the Russian prospects though is Dmitry Volkov. He was one of the best scorers in the highly competitive Russian Superleague and was chosen as the caption for this year’s Nations League team. These three players and Vlasov are the faces for the new era of volleyball in Russia.
I haven’t even mentioned some of Russia’s best players. Maxim Mikhaylov and Igor Kobzar are world-class at their position and are Olympic team members. Russia is a different squad from last year, and have a good chance of reasserting themselves as the top country in volleyball.
Likely starters (players to watch in italics):
OH: Egor Kliuka (Fakel)
OH: Dmitry Volkov (Fakel)
OP: Maxim Mikhaylov (Zenit Kazan)
MB: Ilia Vlasov (Moscow)
MB: Dmitriy Muserskiy (Belgorod)
S: Igor Kobzar (Kuzbass Kemerevo)
L: Roman Martynyuk (Novosibirsk)